High food prices leave Israel's elderly without traditional Shavuot fare
78-year-old Sol is this year forfeiting her usual cheese biscuits, while 74-year-old David worries that he and his wife are not getting enough vitamins and Shosh, aged 79, recalls the days when a handful of coins could buy you a basket of fruit; all believe that the govenrment should intervene as costs keep climbing
The Jewish festival of Shavuot is traditionally marked by eating the fruit and dairy. But this year many of Israel's elderly population will refrain from celebrating in the usual way due to record-breaking food prices.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the price of fruit has risen by 54% over the past decade. The price of essential dairy products set by the state will increase only after the Shavuot holiday, but the price of other dairy products are significantly higher than they were this time last year. As a result, many in Israel - for the elderly - are struggling to buy fruit and dairy products for Shavuot.
Sol Levy, 78, is this year having to forfeit baking her traditional cheese cookies. She buys fruit only in small amounts, if at all.
"I see the prices and just give up," she says. "I cannot recall when I have bought a kilo or even a half a kilo of fruit recently. I usually just a piece or two; I do not buy grapes for example as they come in bunches."
Sol goes to "Ephraim's House" daycare for the elderly in the southern city of Dimona, which is fostered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. There she finds not only her friends but also a hot meal, which without it would be much harder for her to survive.
"Luckily for me I come to the daycare where I have breakfast and lunch, and sometimes I take food home so that I have dinner," she says.
"I have no way of buying products for the holidays and I cannot even bake the cheese cookies I once did. All dairy products, including simple cheese used for baking cakes, have become too expensive."
Sol says that she has a monthly government stipend of NIS 3,000, and worries what higher food prices will mean.
"I heard that the prices of dairy products are going to rise even further, which shows that the government could not care less about the people. They have a high salary, even now when the Knesset dissolved itself and therefore have no work," she says.
"My husband worked his whole life, my children work hard to provide for themselves and still it is hard to survivem" she says. "I'm trying not to be a burden on my children, because they too have families to provide for."
David Pis is 74 years old and lives in Be'er Sheva. He barely leaves his home due to poor health and is reliant on an oxygen tank. He and wife live in poverty and find it hard to provide for themselves with a combined pension of NIS 5,100, most of which goes to pay electricity bills
"Our refrigerator is empty most of the time," he says. "I bring small amounts of food from the nearest grocery store and I'm supported by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews."
The high price of food is nothing new to him, and the couple spend their small allowance on the essentials.
"Prices are so high that I cannot remember the last time we ate cheese and fruit," he says. "I prefer to buy rice, a small chicken and cooking oil - the basics. I live in a neglected apartment and I dream of renovating it a little and having a decent meal. I do not have money and I'm not healthy enough for renovations."
He adds: "I want to be able to buy fruit for the vitamins that my wife and I need, but just cannot afford it. I heard on the news that dairy prices are on the rise again. Today cheese costs so much that the holiday is not on mind, just how to survive."
Shosh Alburg will soon be marking her 80th birthday, but there will be no feast to celebrate the milestone. She worked her whole life in a bank but now is barely surviving.
"Once we went to the market with a few coins and came back with a basket filled with fruit," she says. "Today I buy basic products and give up on the rest. On the holiday, I will go to the daycare center for the elderly because otherwise I will be at home unable to buy anything."
Shosh too believes that the state must intervene on the high cost of living.
"The government must do something, it is impossible to provide for oneself with a pension of NIS 3,000," she says.
"We pay taxes, work hard our whole lives and when we retire, we can hardly buy a quarter of a kilo of fruit or a small amount of cheese."
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews President Yael Eckstein says: "Fruit and dairy products are essential nutrients, which unfortunately hundreds of thousands of the elderly, children and families who live in poverty are deprived of."
Eckstein said that the organization provides food each month to 17,000 elderly people in Israel.